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“We Picture Brownie Stores in the Leading Capitals of Europe”

16 October, 2015

Mercedes Ortega, founder of Brownie, together with Joan Morera / Brownie

Fashion firm Brownie is preparing its internationalisation in Portugal under new CEO Albert Puyol.

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After joining the label in September, Albert Puyol is the new chief executive officer of Brownie. He has been given the job of taking the company global and executing and defining its growth over the coming years with the goal of implementing stores in “the leading capitals of Europe”. Brownie communications manager Irene Framis, who has been with the firm since its foundation, says that until now, “we were thinking of opening in a city like Paris or London,” but when Puyol came on board he helped them design a “much more structured and organic” expansion plan.

Portugal will be the site of the first Brownie store outside of Spain. Company representatives have visited both Porto and Lisbon to find the right premises and identify the best commercial area to set up the new establishment in before the end of the year.

“We’d all like to open in New York or London, but there are a number of major decisions behind such a move. What we want is to start by opening close to home, in a place with a similar climate and lifestyle, and Portugal fits that profile,” Framis says.

Brownie is a family business project established by Mercedes Ortega and Joan Morera in 2006 with the first store on Barcelona’s carrer Santaló. Although the pair had significant experience in the design and textile sectors, respectively, they didn’t initially think the firm would grow at the rate it is today. More specifically, and thanks to the openings of new establishments, revenue climbed from €4.6 million in 2013 to €6 million last year and the figures for 2015 are expected to come in at €11 million.

“We never thought we’d grow the way we have been doing and which we predict we will continue to do. But getting Albert Puyol on board has given us the confidence that we can do it, slowly and surely and well,” Framis says. She has also been part of the Brownie founding family and explains how the present collaboration between Puyol and  Morera and Ortega came about. “They have been friends for years and in the meeting we had over summer, he asked us how we wanted to grow. Ortega and Morera thought his experience was essential to achieving it. He knows the procedures to follow in order for a company to expand. The brand is no longer small and we want it to grow even more,” the communications manager says.

Framis is referring to Puyol’s longstanding experience in the fashion sector. President of Loewe from 2004 to 2009, he has led and participated in the international expansion processes of major fashion sector firms including the Tèxtil Lònia group, owner of the manufacturing and distribution licences for Carolina Herrera and Purificación García. His career has also encompassed working with the labels Women’secret and lingerie company Vives Vidal, where he was responsible for the Portuguese, French and Italian markets, among others.

Besides growth outside of Spain and the opening of new stores “in Andalusia, specifically Seville and Malaga, and also in the north of Spain – Oviedo is one possibility on the table”, the firm is looking at expanding its products. “We want to offer a 100% Brownie collection in-store. Until now we have focused on sweaters and t-shirts, while the shoes and pants were made by other labels, but last year we ran a preliminary test with a pants collection and we are now producing them ourselves,” Framis explains.

For the heads of Brownie, the goal is for women of all ages to be able to find a piece in its collection. “Daughters, mothers and grandmothers must be able to buy some products with the Brownie look. Clearly our most important target market to date has been adolescents, they were the driving force behind getting the label up and running. But we don’t design only for them. We think about their mothers and – why not – their grandmothers! We don’t focus on one segment, but the entire range we can reach,” specifies the Brownie communication manager.

To understand the scale of Brownie’s growth, Framis says that when she joined the firm six years ago it had three stores in Barcelona and five people in the offices. “The collections were tested at home! Now there are 20 people in the offices and five in the communications department, as well as the store personnel”. Most importantly, they have 13 own stores in Spain’s leading cities. With Puyol’s incorporation these figures are bound to rise. But what won’t change, Framis says, is the commitment to ‘made in Spain’: “We produce 70% of the collection here. We mainly work with a factory in Igualada to make the sweaters and with other local providers. If we can’t find the machinery or fabric to make the pieces here we source them from Italy, for example. That’s where the pants are made. But Mercedes Ortega is very clear about everything being done here, close to home; she says it’s a non-negotiable”.

Both Ortega and Morera have spent their whole lives working in the fashion sector and have very good knowledge about the advantages of local production. Ortega had various own stores and a label that carried her name. She began selling clothing she would pick up in London or Ibiza, working out of the well-known store El Camello in Barcelona. By chance, that was where she met some of the people who are today running major fashion firms, such as Isak Andic, and it is also where she learnt some of the important secrets to success in the trade. Morera, meanwhile, has brought to the table all the experience he acquired in the industrial textile sector through his family. Between them, their knowledge has made it possible for Brownie to be established and to grow during the toughest years of the financial crisis. Before them is an expansion process which they acknowledge will not make them “the next Inditex” but with which they want to achieve “a presence in European capitals”.

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